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3 Misconceptions about Marriage

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six-year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and Bible class ministry in church, and also preaches, trains, and teaches in different churches and youth groups in Singapore. He has been married for 15 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (eleven years old) and Elijah (eight years old).

 

Weddings. It’s interesting how many people (women in particular) start dreaming and talking about their wedding at a young age.

I came across a blogger who wrote about how she started dreaming about her wedding as soon as she could talk.  And when she got her first piggy bank at four, she started saving—not for her education, but for her wedding dress. Numerous media outlets have reported that many women have the details of their dream wedding planned out by the time they’re 13.

But while a wedding marks one of the most important occasions in a person’s life, it can mean different things to different people. For some, it signals the start of something new and better. For others, it symbolizes graduating to the next stage in life. But there are also those who do not view it favorably in light of the rising number of broken relationships around them. For these people, they are skeptical about marriage, and conclude that marriages are outdated and no longer relevant.

Depending on our dreams and experiences, we may have either a romantic or bleak view of marriage. Let me share three misconceptions about marriage that I think most of us have, based on some of my personal reflections from Ephesians 5:31-33.

 

Misconception #1: Marriage is just a life stage

Some of us see marriage as another stage in life. When we are young, we attend school. After we are done with studying, we go out to work. What’s next? Get married and give birth.

Seen from this perspective, marriage is merely a rite of passage to adulthood. And this invariably affects our attitude towards it. Like everything else in life, we simply try to “make the best out of it”. So, marriage becomes a gamble; or maybe an investment.

My grandmother married my grandfather even though she knew she would be his second wife, believing that the marriage would bring her security. As it turned out, she was the least loved among the three ladies in his life. Even her own biological children were instructed to address her as “nanny” rather than “mommy”. It’s sad that while my grandmother was married into a rich family, she was not rich in many ways.

 

Misconception #2: Marriage makes us complete

Married couples often call their spouses their other halves. But to think of another person completing us has an obvious limitation. It means that before we are married or if we’re single, we are only “half a person”.

When I was younger, I used to think that many problems would be solved when I got married. I wouldn’t be lonely anymore, and I’d have someone I could truly trust and be honest with, someone who could make me feel secure. But reality can be very different.

My wife will tell you that she had some lonely nights and feelings of insecurity in the first few years of our marriage, especially when we got into conflicts and disagreements. At the time, I too wondered whether my wife, who was supposed to be my best friend, could truly accept and understand me. I was not alone, but I still felt lonely.

The fact is, married people still feel lonely, suspicious, and insecure.

 

Misconception #3: Marriage takes away our freedom

The idea that marriage is like “imprisonment” is not uncommon. Just before our marriage, we have our last bachelor’s party and take our last holiday trip as singles because we somehow think that life will no longer be the same anymore after the wedding day.

In fact, this is precisely the reason why there are so many negative jokes about marriage and funny ways to describe it. Because many people do feel resentful; they feel that the best part of their lives has been given away to their partners and children.

But is this really the case? And if it is not meant to be an “imprisonment”, then what should it be like? Are there any certain truths we can know about marriage?

 

God’s truth #1: Marriage is a special relationship closely knit by God

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)

As Christians, we see marriage as a very special relationship that God has designed, in which two lives are closely knit into one. This doesn’t mean that we stop being individuals or that we need a spouse in order to be “complete”. What it means is that we cannot just focus on our own interests and expect our spouses to simply support us. We need to give due consideration to our time together, our common concerns, goals and interests.

I used to love to hang out for late-night movies and suppers, play my favorite sports and computer games, and even travel overseas with my friends. While I could expect my wife to support me by letting me continue doing what I like frequently and let her do the things that she likes, that would probably encourage me to look out for my own needs first, rather than her needs—or even ours, as a couple.

One of my favorite illustrations which brings out God’s idea of marriage shows two people involved in a three-legged race. Each of the two participants must do his/her own part in the race. But the duo also needs to have a common direction, a common pace, and the willingness to speed up or slow down for the other person. If each individual wants to go in his or her own direction, both of them will not only get very frustrated and go nowhere, but may even fall flat on their faces.

But what if the couple cannot agree on whose direction and priority to go with? How do we know whose direction and priority is better? Under normal circumstances, it is truly difficult to decide. But for Christians, this problem is more easily resolved. The truths and principles in the Bible shape our direction and priority.

 

God’s truth #2: Marriage must point us to our relationship with Christ

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)

While this passage in Ephesians gives clear instructions on the roles of husbands and wives, we must remember that the marriage relationship is actually referencing Jesus and the church.

Left to our own devices, our marriages will likely present great struggles. As singles, we can choose to ignore certain issues and struggles known only to ourselves. But when we are married, we have someone very close to us who is watching, and maybe even judging us 24/7. We may be constantly reminded about our own issues. Here I am, hoping my spouse can help me solve my problems. Instead, he or she magnifies my problems and makes my struggles even more pronounced.

The thing is, many of the issues we face in our marriages stem from the sinfulness in our own lives. Our spouses are not the cause of our problems; neither are they the solution. Our problem is that we are, first and foremost, at war with God. Our hostility against God affects the way we relate with others as well as the way we live. So we need to first find forgiveness from God. Jesus died for us to pay the price of our sins so that through Him, we can be forgiven by God. But does the wiping away of our past record of wrong guarantee a good life henceforth?

Well, the other interesting part to the death of Jesus was that He rose to life from the dead. God, by His great power, raised Jesus from the dead. And the Bible tells us that this same power is now at work in the lives of Jesus’ followers so that we can live a new and good life. That means that we have the power to live anew. Christian couples are thus empowered to live out their marriage as God intended.

In addition to this new ability that we have in Jesus, we also have a new understanding. The way Jesus loves His people, the church, and teaches them how to live in obedience and submission to Him serve as the example of how husbands and wives ought to relate with one another in love and obedience.

While our lives are made incomplete by sin, our lives are made whole again when we come to Jesus. So, whether we are married and single, we do live complete lives in Christ. What is different, though, is that married and singles experience this completeness differently in their lives.

 

God’s truth #3: Marriage is an expression of love and respect in the relationship

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33)

Commitment and obligations are not expressions of bondage; they are expressions of love. If we love someone, everything is a pleasure; if we don’t, everything is a chore. Because I love my wife, I meet her needs because I want to—not just because I have to. In marriage, I am not imprisoned. In fact, I am free to make choices; I choose to love and serve my wife willingly and cheerfully.

We all know that we need to show love and respect. But while we know these concepts and their importance, we often don’t do it. A very simple expression of love and respect is how we talk to and about one another. Often, it is not difficult to see that couples don’t really love and respect one another by the strong, unkind, and demeaning words they use to describe one another, as well as the gestures they use, like rolling their eyes or raising their voices and hands at each other. While many feel criticized by their spouses, the sad truth is they have also done the same to their spouses.

Learning to listen, understand, and remember are extremely important. Once, my wife was very upset with me because she thought that I was not listening to the things that she said. But when I assured her that I was following her conversation and could repeat some of the things she said, her demeanor and response changed immediately. That was certainly one important occasion when my attentiveness and good memory served me well.

Another way in which we show love and respect is to learn to do what is most needful and helpful. The list can go on and on. It can get very demoralizing because it seems like there are so many things we need to do to get our marriages right.

But the good news is that it is actually not just about what we do. If the Lord Jesus constantly works in our heart and changes us, we will grow to be loving and respectful people. When that happens, we will know and do what’s loving and respectful.

So for me, what has helped me a lot in my own marriage is to constantly focus on three aspects:

  1. 1.God’s design; that my marriage is a special relationship closely knit by God
  2. 2.Christ’s work; that my marriage must point me to my relationship with Christ
  3. 3.My role; that my marriage is an expression of love and respect in the relationship

In fact, these are the same three aspects that we should turn back to for all other issues of life. If we can always remember God’s good design, Christ’s completed work and our expected role in the different areas of life, we will be able to handle and work through our struggles the way God intends.

When I Don’t Agree with the Bible

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six-year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and Bible class ministry in church, and also preaches, trains, and teaches in different churches and youth groups in Singapore. He has been married for 15 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (11-years-old) and Elijah (8-years-old).

Recently, a Christian friend of mine shared that she was going through a very rough patch in her life. Why would God, described in the Bible as the God of love, allow her to go through all that? she asked. What added to her disappointment was that God did not answer her prayers. The God of the Bible didn’t seem to match up to her expectations.

Another Christian friend told me he was in a relationship with someone; it was a relationship which the Bible clearly spoke against. Both of them were truly in love with one another and the relationship meant a lot to him. To him, God was unreasonable in the way He spelt out His expectations in the Bible, especially in terms of whom believers can have a close relationship with.

These are just two of the many others I know who struggle with what the Bible says. For these two friends of mine, it is especially tough because the disagreement is not just about a conflict of ideas; it involves a clash of expectations, interests and lifestyles.

What do we do when we don’t agree with the Bible? To answer this question for myself, I’ve learned to first review the basic assumptions and convictions I have about myself and God respectively.

 

Assumption #1: My ideas and feelings cannot be wrong

Disagreements (of any sort) between individuals occur when both sides are certain that they are right. I find it hard to accept things that are different from what I have learned from young to be true. This is especially so when I am very certain about my views and convicted about how I feel.

Naturally, when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and how I feel, what I think and what I want, my most instinctive reaction is to say that the Bible cannot be right.

But if I am honest with myself, I will have to acknowledge that there have been numerous occasions in my life that I have been proven wrong in the way I look at things, the way I feel, and the way I respond. The reality is I can be wrong—even though I may not like to admit it.

I remember the time when my application for medical school was rejected. Unlike some of my friends who wanted to be doctors for personal reasons, I really wanted to “save” lives. So I thought God got it wrong. It has been a humbling journey since, but as I look back on this time in my life, I realize God knew better. Many have affirmed me in my role as a teacher. And as I teach the Word of God and share the gospel of Christ, I am in fact “saving” lives for eternity. I thank God that while I was wrong about myself then, God wasn’t wrong about me.

 

Assumption #2: I know my Bible well enough

For those of us who have been Christians for many years, we would have heard many sermons and done much reading and studying of the Bible for ourselves. With all this head knowledge, we may come to understand God and life in a certain way.

Inevitably, when God and life do not turn out the way we understand, we struggle. But, if we read our Bible more carefully in its proper contexts, we will realize that we have misread our Bibles and misunderstood the character of God all along.

I used to think that God would answer every prayer I said if I ended it in Jesus’ name. But that is not what John 16:24 meant at all. You can imagine the numerous occasions when I felt disappointed with God for not answering my prayers. But that was because I understood Him wrongly. On hindsight, I realize He must have been the one who was truly disappointed with me instead.

 

Assumption #3: God must act in a certain way

We expect our close friends to understand and accept us, and we hold certain expectations about how they should act and respond. As such, we become very disappointed when they don’t. So, if God doesn’t act in a certain way according to our expectations, we believe that something must be wrong with Him.

But we cannot look at God in the same way we look at our friends, because He is not a mere human who has to pander to our desires and expectations. He is the great God who rules with absolute authority and wisdom. In Isaiah 40:12-26, we read of how the Israelites had to grapple with some mind-blowing metaphors about the incomparable greatness of God. The reality is, if we can “sort God out” and tell Him what He should do, then He can’t really be God because He is under our control.

 

Therefore, for myself, here are three foundational pillars that I choose to stand on:

Pillar #1: God defines everything, not I

The most fundamental issue I must address is whether or not I accept the fact that in spite of what I think and how I feel, God—who is perfect in power, love and knowledge—defines what is right and wrong, good and bad, true or false.

I can choose to be proud and stubborn because I think I know better since I have read, seen and experienced a lot. Alternatively, I can be humble and accept the reality that God, being the great God, does work beyond my scheme of things.

When Job was tested, his wife and his friends offered many “reasonable” explanations as to why he had to suffer many afflictions. But God does not work or have to work within our scheme of things. In the climactic end in Job 38:1-40:2, God reminded Job that He is the great God; He knows how to run the universe He created and His wisdom is greater than human wisdom.

I have found that on many occasions, my perception and judgment are limited and biased. There is still much I do not know. In fact, I need to learn, unlearn and sometimes even re-learn some things. Guess what? My children are my teachers when it comes to this aspect. Their seemingly innocent questions like, “How did this come about?”, “Why must it be like that?” and “Why did you say this but do that?” often show me that I don’t know as much and I’m not as loving, wise, patient and fair as I like to think I am. It will be foolish to think that I know better.

 

Pillar #2: God is God of the Word

There are truths and issues I must accept simply because they are clearly written in the Bible. At first glance, I may not understand or agree with certain truths or instructions. But it does not change the fact that God has written them in the Bible.

My response is not to un-write, erase or gloss over these things; rather, I need to take time and effort to learn and understand them. At times, I may need to simply accept these truths even if they don’t make full sense to me. Maybe we don’t quite understand fully the Trinity or the idea of predestination. Maybe we can’t answer the question of why a good God allows sufferings. Maybe we cannot comprehend why God didn’t answer our prayers. Nonetheless, we can hold on to these questions and wait to see how God will help us work through them along the way. When Habakkuk found God’s ways confusing and sometimes mysterious, God’s answer to him was: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4). So, wait for His deliverance.

 

Pillar #3: God is God of the world

Instead of focusing on the differences between what the Bible says and what we see, why not take comfort and be encouraged by the many instances of congruence between the Bible and the world? This should not surprise us at all, since the same God who gave us the Word is also the same God who made the world.

One good exercise is to constantly look for and marvel at examples of how God’s character and truths are seen in the world we live in and in the experiences we go through. For example, love, mercy and justice (or for that matter, even choice and consequence) are not just abstract concepts. These are important principles that are being displayed and lived out in our lives and societies. They do demonstrate in some ways (though imperfectly) how God interacts with the world. But God will necessarily differ from and transcend human applications of these principles because, unlike man, He is perfect in all His ways.

So what do I do when I don’t agree with the Bible? I think I am ready to answer the question now.

 

When I don’t agree with the Bible . . .

  1. I will re-visit my pre-suppositions, ideas, desires and interests and face the possibility that my ideas of the world, life or even God and my feelings may be incorrect.
  1. I will re-look what the Bible says in its contexts once again, as I could have misread and misunderstood what it says.
  1. In areas where I am able to work through the clashes and see my mistakes, I will re-align myself and learn to put away my pride and stubbornness.
  1. In areas where I still cannot sort it out, I will re-establish my basic trust in this great and awesome God with the anticipation that He will make things clearer in time to come.

These ideas seem rather obvious, don’t they? Yet when we are faced with real issues, they are harder to grasp than they appear. And that is probably why my two friends struggled. While I’m glad that one of my friends is learning to understand and accept that God has a much better and bigger plan for her, my other friend has to now work through extremely difficult issues in the relationship that God has spoken against.  My prayer for him is that he can re-align himself back to God in due time.

Why I Stayed On In My Church

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and bible class ministry in church as well as preaches, trains and teaches in different churches and youth groups locally. He has been married for 14 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (10 years old) and Elijah (7 years old).

“You mean you are still attending your church after so many years?” This was a question someone asked me about two years ago.

He shared that he was very disappointed with his own church and was trying to find reasons why he should stay. The question set me thinking about why I’m still attending the church that I have been going to since I was a teenager, some 35 years ago.

To give you a rough picture of my church, it has had an average attendance of about a hundred people through the years. Along the way, new people have joined us and others have left, some to start new churches.

Like many others, I face the same struggles and issues that many do in their churches, such as differences in opinions and priorities, disappointments with leaders and fellow members and disagreements about how the word of God should be taught.

Friends have invited me on several occasions to join them at their churches, but I have always declined their invitations. It’s not that I don’t have my fair share of frustrations—I do feel that the church can be better organized and members should be more interested and involved in the work of God. But despite the moments of frustration I sometimes face in my church, I have decided to remain where I am.

It has made me wonder sometimes: What is my motivation to stay? Am I staying on just because of inertia to change? Shouldn’t I have an expectation of what a church should be like? If my church is not meeting the mark, why shouldn’t I move?

Paul’s depiction of a church in Ephesians 2:19-22 has helped me understand what a church is and what it does. Although the passage refers to the universal community of all believers in Christ, it has also shaped my view of my own church.

1. The church is a kingdom and a family

“[you are] fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (v.19)

While we are fellow subjects of God our King, we are also fellow brothers and sisters with God as our Father. I can choose who I want to be friends with, but I can’t choose who I want as my family members. As such, I am committed to accommodate, relate to, and work through issues with people at church as I would with my family members.

It is not easy most of the time, but I know that I need to put in the effort to understand and communicate with people—and in some instances to mediate between them—because we are part of the same family. Not everyone may share the same values, but that does not mean that any of us is any less of a family member.

 

2. The church is founded on the word of God

“. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (v.20a)

The word of God is central to a community of God’s people. It is no wonder that in some churches, the pulpit is placed at the center to remind us of this important truth. Many people have left their church because they felt they were not being fed properly with the Word of God.

I understand the struggle. I may not be spiritually refreshed every Sunday at church, but I need to be refreshed by His Word in my daily walk with Him. The weekly sermon cannot replace my daily meditation on His Word. Even if I may not receive as much spiritual input as I would love to (that’s not to say that I am not learning at church), I can still think of ways to share constructively with others what I have learned from God’s word in informal or formal settings.

 

3. The church is also founded on Jesus Christ Himself

“. . . with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (v.20b)

As Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ. Our lives, whether communally or individually, must be grounded not only in God’s Word but also in the work of Christ as well as our relationship with Him.

It will be ironical if I claim to follow Jesus but my life does not portray His character in the way I live and in the way I relate to and resolve differences with others. Besides, Jesus, by His death on the cross, has granted me peace with God and with men; I have every reason to be harmonious and peaceable.

 

4. The church is joined, grown, and built by the Lord Himself

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v.21-22)

As much as I would love to see my church grow in strength and number, I constantly remind myself that it is the Lord who grows His church. This does not mean that we can simply ignore factors that are causing people to move out of church. We should take a good and honest look at how our church life is affecting everyone. There may be many areas that we need to work on so that we are truly living as God’s people.

Nonetheless, I know that I need to be patient because people do not change overnight. Besides, any change in people’s hearts is a result of God’s work. It means that I should learn to pray more for my church.

And so my answer to the question, “You mean you are still attending your church after so many years?” is: Yes, and why not? There are still many things that I need to work through in my own life as well as among fellow members at church. My church is not perfect, but neither am I. In fact, this is why we come together as a community of God’s people.

How I Came to Understand My Parents

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and bible class ministry in church as well as preaches, trains and teaches in different churches and youth groups locally. He has been married for 13 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (nine years old) and Elijah (six years old).

“It’s just not fair!”

“Why am I always compared with someone else? I’m different!”

As a boy growing into my teenage years, I never liked to be compared with others, and found myself making these remarks to my parents quite frequently. Back then, there were many times when I thought I was being placed at an unfair disadvantage, and constantly felt the need to measure up to the standards my parents had set for me.

When my elder brother and I were younger (and probably even now), I was the rougher and louder of the two. I did not understand why I always got toys that came apart more easily, why I was always the dirtier and messier one, and why I was often the subject of much nagging and scolding from my mother. It seemed like my parents were indirectly telling me to be more like my brother.

To add insult to injury, I was always the recipient of “hand-me-downs” from my brother. He always got to wear brand-new clothes while I had to wear his old clothes. To be fair to my parents, they did buy me things that I needed. But somehow, I remember less of what they bought me, and more of what they did not get for me.

The irony of it all was that while I kept telling my parents to stop comparing me with others, I was subconsciously comparing myself with my brother, and my parents with my friends’ parents.

Have you experienced this too?

When the tables turned

Today, I am a father of two boys. As you can imagine, I have been given a taste of my own medicine. Every time one of my boys goes, “Daddy, it’s not fair!” it feels like retribution. Over the years, God has constantly taught me in many interesting ways that He is a just and fair God.

But the good thing is, I understand perfectly well how my children feel—because it is exactly how I felt when I was at their age. Now, I find myself trying my best to remind them (even before they complain about unfairness) about what my wife and I have done and are continuing to do for them. Thankfully, they look like they understand what I’m saying, although I can’t say the same for myself when I was at their age.

And while I’ve seen the wisdom in the common advice—do a role reversal so that we can better understand things from the other person’s perspective and be more appreciative of others—I have generally found that difficult to apply and rather subjective.

A working ‘formula’

Thankfully, God does have a golden rule for family life and how parents and children ought to relate to each other.

Ephesians 6:1-4 teaches children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”.

It also teaches parents (especially fathers) to “not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”. In a parallel passage, Colossians 3:21, Paul further reminds parents to “provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged”.

As a Christian father, I try my best to please God. I’ve also come to learn that children can help us fathers to be more encouraging and nurturing. How this pans out for each family will differ.

In my family, I do appreciate good feedback from my children, especially when it is given with much love, sensitivity, respect and concern for me as their father and a fellow brother in Christ at the same time. This may sound a little strange, but that’s exactly how our relationships are described in the bible. Similarly, if my sons welcome feedback from me on how they can obey and honour me, I will gladly tell them how to (of course, as sensitively as possible).

Like in all families, however, our interactions and dynamics are complex. We do not always listen as attentively and speak as sensitively and respectfully as we should. Even when we try, we may still end up using words which offend the other party. Whether we recognize it or not, we desperately need the help of the Lord.

In any case, I have to pray for wisdom to be as nurturing and encouraging a father as possible, whether my children are supportive or not—and that, despite all the failures my boys may see in me, God will help them obey and honour their parents.

Today, I thank God for the opportunity to learn lessons on what it means to be a godly father. I am also grateful that I still have the opportunity to learn and live out what it means to be a godly son to my ageing parents. I realize that I need as much growing up to do as my boys.

The heart of Trinity

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10)

It is evident that Jesus came because of His obedience to God, the Father. He is also the object of His Father’s love. With that understanding, playing my role well as a son to my father and father to my sons has a much deeper significance. My motivation is much greater than just trying to make my family work.

When I seek to be the father and son that God would like me to be, I am living out the principles that exist within the Triune Godhead. In addition, I catch a glimpse of the relationship that Jesus has with God, the Father.